By KATHERINE SHRADER Washington AP 4/13/07

The Bush administration asked Congress Friday to allow monitoring of more foreigners in the United States during intelligence investigations.

The plan is one of several proposed changes, which have been in the works for more than a year, that go to the heart of a key U.S. surveillance law.

The administration says the changes are intended to help the government better address national security threats by updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to bring it into line with rapid changes in communications technology.

Civil liberties groups see the government’s effort as a needless power grab.

The proposal would revise the way the government gets warrants from the secretive FISA court to investigate suspected terrorists, spies and other national security threats.

The administration wants to be able to monitor foreign nationals on American soil if they are thought to have significant intelligence information, but no known links to a foreign power. Under current law, the government must convince a FISA judge that an individual is an agent of a government, terror group or some other foreign adversary.

The administration also wants new provisions to ease surveillance of people suspected of spreading weapons of mass destruction internationally.

And the administration wants to allow government lawyers to decide whether a FISA court order is needed for electronic eavesdropping based on the target of the monitoring, not the mode of communication or the location where the surveillance is being conducted.

One effect of such a change: the National Security Agency would have the authority to monitor foreigners without seeking court approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and e-mail accounts in the United States.

Most often used by the FBI and the NSA, the 1978 FISA law has been updated several times since it was first passed, including in 2001 to allow government access to certain business records.

Among other tools available now, the government can break into homes, hotel rooms and cars to install hidden cameras and listening devices, as well as search drawers, luggage or hard drives.

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